IOWA CITY, Iowa - Teams from the Mid-American Conference have been springing upsets on Power 5 conference schools for quite some time. The last two years, Iowa has experienced it.
Northern Illinois knocked off the Hawkeyes in last year's season-opener at Kinnick Stadium after losing to the Big Ten school by one point in '12. Central Michigan came to Iowa City two campaigns ago and stunned Iowa on its way to a pedestrian 7-6 record.
Iowa hopes to end the MAC madness Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2) when Ball State comes to Kinnick. The Cardinals are winners of four games against Power 5 conference teams the last three years, including a 48-27 victory at Virginia in '13.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Ball State does a good job finding under-the-radar prospects and developing them. Sound familiar?
"It looks like they do the same thing, get guys that work hard and have talent that maybe people overlook. They've got guys from California, a bunch of guys from North Carolina, which I'm sure is tied in with Coach (Pete) Lembo's time at Elon, and they're well represented state wise. So they've done a good job putting a team together. The big thing is they're very disciplined, they're very well coached, and you don't win that many games being that way unless you've got the best players,' Ferentz said.
The Cardinals have won 17 of their last 19 regular-season games. They opened up '14 last week with a 30-10 win versus Colgate, against whom they piled up more than 500 yards of offense.
"They looked like they were able to operate the way they want to operate, which was just they make you defend, make you defend them in all regards," Ferentz said. "It was a good start for them. Like I said, they're very well coached and well coordinated. Defensively, they've got a new coordinator, and it's hard, you only have one game to look at. So, it's a little bit difficult there, but schematically looked fairly similar to what they were, and it looks like the idea is to be aggressive with the secondary and try to get up the field on you a little bit and be disruptive with the offensive line."
Time, TV, Announcers: 2:35 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway and Paul Carcaterra.
The Series: Iowa leads 2-0 with the victories coming in '05 (56-0) and '10 (45-0).
Betting Line: Iowa stood as a 17-point favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton Wednesday with the total at 53.5.
-Ball State is 8-2 Against The Spread in its last 10 games vs. Big Ten teams.
-Iowa is 4-0 ATS in its last 4 games following a ATS loss.
Match-up to Watch: BSU Quarterback Ozzie Mann will making his first college road start against a Hawkeye defense that dropped the signal caller five times last week. Iowa also limited UNI to 25 rushing yards on 25 carries. While the Cardinals boast a solid running attack, Mann still will need to make some plays if his team expects to pull off the upset. The Hawkeyes struggled on pass coverage in Week 1 so opportunities could be there.
Take Note: Iowa has won five of its last six regular season games, dating back to last season, including winning four straight. Ball State has won 17 of its last 19 regular season contests.
Take Note, Take Two: Eight Hawkeyes made their first career starts in the season opener against Northern Iowa -- two on offense and four on defense. First time starters last week included OL Sean Welsh, WR Jacob Hillyer, LB Reggie Spearman, LB Bo Bower, CB Greg Mabin, DE Nate Meier, PK Marshall Koehn, and P Dillon Kidd.
Non-Sports Related: Most people are aware that late night talk show host extraordinaire David Letterman is a Ball State alum. Oprah's longtime squeeze, Stedman Graham and Joyce DeWitt of Three's Company fame also are Cardinals.
Did You Know?: Ball State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joey Lynch was quarterback at Ball State from 2003-06. Lynch completed 6-of-10 passes for 37 yards in BSU's 56-0 loss in Kinnick Stadium in 2005.
Did You Also Know?: Ball State reached bowl eligibility for a third straight season in 2013. The last time the Cardinals won at least six games in three straight seasons came when the team reached the mark in four straight campaigns from 1988-91
BSU Wins If… it can establish its running game and control the clock. The Cardinals are very much built like Iowa in that they like to work off of play action and employ a balanced offense.
Iowa Wins If… avoid giving up big plays on defense. Had the Hawkeyes done that against UNI, it would have been a blowout. They're unlikely to let Ball State compile multiple long drives to beat them.
Overview: Stupid me predicted a 31-13 Iowa win last week. I should have known better.
The Hawkeyes are notorious slow starters and UNI is the opposite. Still, take away the big plays, and my prognostication wasn't so crazy.
I respect what Coach Pete Lembo has done in his three years at Ball State. He's shown he can find talent and develop it. And the Cardinals, as a whole, will not be intimated by the atmosphere.
The key here is how well Mann handles himself. He's coming off a efficient Week 1 performance that saw him complete 20 of 32 passes for 203 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Mann didn't have to deal with crowd noise last week, however. He also can't expect his team to rush for over 300 yards against the Hawkeyes.
Ball State's defense is the reverse of the Hawkeyes'. It is inexperienced up front but veteran on next two levels. The Cardinals will need to find ways to make plays at the point of attack or Iowa could run wild.
Ball State's special teams look strong. Kicker Scott Secor and Kyle Schmidt return from '13. Kick returner Eric Patterson looks to build on a game last Saturday that saw him bring back two balls for 69 yards, including a long of 54.
It's unlikely to be a cakewalk for Iowa as they run into a worthy MAC opponent for a third year in a row. Ball State is better than league members Central Michigan in '12 or Western Michigan in '07, who won at Kinnick, and more like the recent NIU squads.
The Hawkeyes are in a much better place than they were when losing to those inferior MAC teams. Overall, I'm pretty encouraged by what I saw from them in Week 1. And I think they'll be better Saturday.
Prediction: IOWA 30, Ball State 16